Iberville Parish President Mitch Ourso said Wednesday his parish will seek to reopen bars after his parish had improved coronavirus testing statistics.
Iberville is the first in the 12-parish Baton Rouge region to fall below state positivity benchmarks that determine whether bars can reopen, state data show. Bars were shut down statewide after a rise in coronavirus cases this summer.
East Baton Rouge Parish and three others in the region also appear to have met half of the same state two-week benchmark, meaning the state's most populous parish could move to reopen bars after another week of equivalent or improved health data.
Mark Armstrong, spokesman for city-parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, said officials expected to make an "optimistic statement" about bars and other alcohol-serving establishments on Thursday. He declined to offer any other details.
Ascension and Livingston parishes, two of the region's most populous suburban parishes, were heading in the wrong direction, however, failing to meet even the first part of the state benchmark as positivity figures trended upward.
After a parish meets state benchmarks, parish officials must decide whether to opt in to what's known as Phase 3 and get authorization from the state Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control, allowing bars, daiquiri shops and breweries to have on-premises sales.
Ourso, the Iberville president, said he has moved to seek authorization for bars to reopen after his emergency preparedness director told him midday Wednesday about the new data.
“That letter has already been signed and is going to be in the mail today,” Ourso said in a brief interview.
With the looser rules, bars and other alcohol-serving establishments can operate with table service at 25% capacity with up to 50 patrons until 11 p.m. Other restrictions also apply.
To meet the state standards, a parish must have two consecutive weeks with a weekly positivity rate of 5% or less.
Newly released state data show Iberville had a positivity rate of 4.7% between Sept. 3 and Sept. 9 and 3.9% between Sept. 10 and Sept. 16. State positivity reporting has a lag of several days.
The positivity rate demonstrates the number of positive tests per batch of tests and, health experts have said, is a measure of community spread. It also indicates whether the level of testing for the virus is sufficient.
The state does not allow a weekly positivity rate that is above 5% but less than 5.5% to be rounded down to meet the state standard.
Hours after saying St. James Parish bars could re-open Friday for the first time since a summer shutdown spurred by the coronavirus, the state…
Iberville has six incorporated municipalities that would be affected by the opt-in request, in addition to unincorporated areas: Grosse Tete, Maringouin, Plaquemine, Rosedale, St. Gabriel and White Castle.
Ourso said Iberville Parish Council members, mayors of the parish's six municipalities and others would be informed about the pending change.
He said he wants local leaders to inform bar and lounge owners about those requirements so they can get back to work and "start trying to make a living."
Elsewhere in the area, East Baton Rouge Parish hit 4.1% positivity between Sept. 10 and Sept. 16, falling from 5.7% between Sept. 3 and 9.
The three other parishes that saw their weekly positivity data drop below 5% between Sept. 10 and 16 are East Feliciana, Pointe Coupee and West Baton Rouge parishes.
In many cases, the state's published positivity rates did not match up an Advocate analysis of the raw data published on the website. In St. James and East Feliciana parishes, the published rates and the raw data differed on whether the parishes had met the benchmarks, so it wasn't immediately clear how close they were to being able to reopen.
Spokespeople for the state Health Department didn't immediately return inquiries for comment Wednesday afternoon.
St. James Parish briefly got authorization to open bars on Friday from the ATC but then had them shut down after state health officials said the parish hadn't met the benchmarks.
According to the latest data, that parish's positivity rate was 0.7% between Sept. 3 and 9 and rose to 6% between Sept. 10 and 16.
A parish spokeswoman didn't return a call for comment Wednesday.
According to the state's most prominently published positivity figures, four parishes, Assumption, St. Helena, Tangipahoa, West Feliciana, had positivity rates that fell week-to-week but haven't dropped below 5%.
Livingston was the only parish in the Baton Rouge area that remained in double-digits for the week of Sept. 10 to 16. The parish's positivity rate nearly doubled from the week prior, up from 6.6% to 11%.
Ascension Parish rose from 7.2% to 7.8% positivity.
The Times-Picayune | The Advocate reporter Jeff Adelson contributed to this story.